Previous commentaries in the Tribune have made the conjecture that non-solar customers are subsidizing Solar owners. This is a biased and unproven assumption. Several studies by Public Utility Commissions in other states have found that solar providers offer numerous benefits to non-solar owners. Roof-top Solar owners provide power to neighbors without the real and measurable costs incurred by traditional fossil-fuel production methods. Brookings Institute findings reported, “the economic benefits of net metering actually outweigh the costs and impose no significant cost increase for non-solar customers. Far from a net cost, net metering is in most cases a net benefit—for the utility and for non-solar rate-payers.”
Perhaps looking at some of the “Avoided Costs” may shed more light on the claims of Solar subsidies. Neighbors providing energy via roof-top solar help the power company to avoid construction of new production facilities at some distance from users. Proposals for RMP to invest in Wind farms in Wyoming are, at first glance,great due to Wind providing renewable energy. However, building a transmission line some 140+ miles is another expense which could be avoided by greater investment in roof-top solar closer to users. With roof-top solar producing energy in the neighborhood,the amount of power lost over extra high voltage power lines, over long distances is reduced. Even developing a solar farm out in the West Desert would require a considerable investment, which could be minimized by installing solar panels on existing roof-tops, including on businesses in our cities. Roof-top Solar owners have invested a great deal of their own money in the future, and RMP has avoided the primary cost of construction of such a production base. There have been government subsidies which have provided a portion of the cost, but the subsidies for solar panels are scheduled to be reduced annually and terminated in the near future (7 years in Utah). The consumption of water in traditional power production facilities, which is not needed with renewable energy power production, is another avoided cost. Water is always a concern in Utah as we are one of the driest states in the nation.
While transportation factors are a major source of Carbon Dioxide in the Salt Lake Valley, electric power production, over 70% of which is coal generated in Utah, is another significant contributor to this pollution. Solar power does not produce pollution at the site of generation, thus providing an avoided cost related to health care expenses associated with air and water pollution, especially in children and elderly. Another area of environmental importance is the production of Nitric Oxide, Sulfur Dioxide, and coal ash by fossil fuel power plants, as well as the particulate matters which contribute to the pollution of our valley. Solar power does not contribute to this issue and thus does not have to meet increasing governmental compliance requirements. Further, one should consider the cost of land degradation from traditional mining techniques as evident to all in the valley, and also the cost from disposal of coal ash in landfills.
A 2014 Utah Report on Just Energy Policies noted that “Prolonged exposure to toxins from…energy production facilities is tied to birth defects, heart disease, asthma attacks, lung disease, learning difficulties, and even lower property values. Many of the same polluting facilities…are major contributors to the greenhouse gases that are driving climate change. Low income neighborhoods and communities of color suffer more of the direct health, educational, and economic consequences of these facilities.”
We are all called to be good stewards of our resources, and to help those in need, so perhaps we should consider all the benefits of Solar Providers and other renewable energy sources before we claim that solar providers are costing non-solar users more. All neighbors may be benefitting from the many avoided costs of renewable energies. Thanks to Stan Holmes and UCARE for most of the facts herein reported.
Craig J. Provost, Ph.D., Salt Lake City, is a retired psychologist with degrees from the University of Texas and the University of North Texas. He worked for the Veterans Administration for 30 years and now volunteers with the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club and on its Utah Needs Clean Energy Committee.